Poetry, like song lyrics, is fertile ground for novel or short story titles. Ian Rankin has raided the Stones’ back catalogue and many others have used Shakespeare or the Bible. Last summer I began a novel – and completed it, though I wasn’t satisfied and it’s hidden in a dusty bundle of papers in the loft – and took this title from one of Douglas Dunn’s poems. Here’s the first chapter……..
The Dead Dreams of Housewives
Paul wonders why he is standing here, why he has spent so much of his life watching. Nothing seems to change, save for the stirring of the privet in the faint breeze or the sag-bellied ponderous steps of next door’s tabby. When he was seventeen he was going to drive across America or become a war photographer or travel along the Andes. But somehow it had never happened. Wasn’t it like that for everyone? You only had to look into the mournful faces that queued for buses or shuffled round vacant shopping malls. They were desperate, like the hunched, wrinkled figures that shivered and drew on fags in hospital doorways. But it wasn’t their fault they were sick or stupid. Paul had been dealt a pretty decent hand in life and he’d wasted it. He remembered stepping inside the Careers room at school. How many lunch breaks had he spent dreaming in that office? He could have been a fighter pilot or a forensic scientist or travel writer.
He stifled a dry cough and shifted his palms on the sill. The white gloss had taken on the hue of bone. A fine film of road dust had stuck to the UPVC. The house Rebecca wanted to call Casa was already looking tired.
Sirens drifted on the breeze. Leaves rustled in the giant poplars that fringed the estate. Paul stretched on his tiptoes and saw blue strobes flicker on the rusting gas holder and the crumbling brickwork of the old hospital. He sniffed and gulped in the cool night air. Despite the heat of the afternoon there was a damp, earthy tang, the scent of honeysuckle, motor oil, a faint trace of mothballs. A freight train rattled past loaded with new and shiny, anonymous people-carriers; three doors down they had one just like it. It had ‘Little Princess On Board’ tacked inside and a bump on the rear driver’s side where the bodywork had split and they’d patched a cross of masking tape over it like a sick teddy bear. A moth drifted in through the window and feathered the naked light bulb. Paul cannot bear the flicking sensation of the moth on the curtain. He shakes the fabric, freeing it, so that it flicks against the double glazing while dropping, as if performing a drowning backstroke. Paul jumps across the bed and takes the top off a can of shaving foam in the en-suite. He catches the moth, cupping it against the glass. He stretches and takes a business card from the dressing table. It is thick, recycled card with a typeface of his choice set against marble.
Paul Pimble – Sales Representative of the Year- Urology Products
The card doesn’t point out the year was 2003. He slides the card between cup and window pane and flicks the cap, releasing the moth into the night sky. The moth is caught in the flickering blue light. The sirens falter as the blue strobes dance across the silver roof of the brand new college extension. The roof has been made to look like a giant wave, although Paul has no idea why. It’s not as if they are teaching swimming, or surfing or even maths. Finally the blue lights fade. It’ll be kids again, Paul thinks, shaking his head. He has taken up jogging, but only goes out after dark because he is ashamed of his pedestrian pace and chubby frame. He shuffles out into the street, worried a porch light will flick on and Number 22 or 41 – both regular runners – will step out and smirk. Paul has pale, milky legs flecked with dark, spiky hair like iron filings. His trainers are scuffed and cracked. He wears a hooded rain-jacket to further cloak his appearance. He doesn’t seem to lose weight and the stairs at work don’t seem to get any easier. He wonders if it is all worth it: the cramps, the chafing, the extra laundry and the indignity that smacks of school games lessons.